Democrat John Hickenlooper famously told a U.S. Senate committee he’d sipped fracking fluid — it was, “almost ritual-like,” he said in 2013 — to prove it’s safe. Now the one-time energy geologist is pitching himself as the more pro-climate candidate in a battle to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner. 

Hickenlooper’s success might seem surprising in a political ecosystem where more than half of adults say Congress and the president should make global warming a high priority, and 69% consider themselves conservationists. But the former Colorado governor, sometimes called “Frackenlooper” by progressives because of his ties to the energy industry, has green-group support over Gardner in what’s been among the most hotly contested congressional races of 2020.

The wildfires across the West might be playing a role in giving Hickenlooper an edge. Polling among registered voters in Colorado done Sept. 11-15 for the Environmental Defense Action by Morning Consult shows that nearly three quarters say they are more concerned about the impacts of climate change in light of recent weather events like wildfires. Two-thirds say they are more likely to vote for a U.S. Senate candidate who backs aggressive climate action.

“People in Colorado understand that climate change is a serious threat to our health and our economy,” EDF Action’s Dan Grossman said. “I hope the results send a message to any politician who still doesn’t realize the urgency of the climate crisis.”

What happens in the Colorado race, and nearly a dozen other close races across the nation, is crucial to advancing any national climate action because of the current 53-47 GOP majority. Political forecasters suggest U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, an Alabama Democrat, will lose his seat in November. That means Democrats would need to capture five seats now held by Republicans or four Republican-held Senate seats and the White House to flip the majority.

It’s a majority necessary to move forward with climate policies that have been thwarted or derailed by the GOP-controlled Senate and White House. Backing out of the Paris climate agreement, rolling back vehicle efficiency standards and scrapping the Clean Power plans are among the examples of climate policies that Republican leaders have blocked..

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The next four weeks will determine if Cory Gardner keeps his job. Here’s how he plans to shift the tide.

Every poll since October 2019 has shown the Republican incumbent trailing. One survey had him within 5 percentage points of John Hickenlooper, but most surveys show the senator facing a much larger deficit.

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